Antibiotics: when the miracle runs out

Prior to the invention of penicillin in 1943, simple infections were the most common cause of death worldwide. You may be one of the millions that have watched this video since its release two years ago but in this sobering TED Talk Maryn McKenna sets out the existential threat to our modern way of life from the overuse of antibiotics, a timely reminder as we battle our way through the flu season.

The stark reality is there has never been an antibiotic invented that bacteria hasn’t eventually beaten; it took just two years for penicillin-resistant microbes to emerge.  A recent UK study found there are currently 700,000 deaths from infections every year, and this is predicted to rise to 10,000,000 if the chronic overuse of antibiotics is not stopped – 20% more than deaths from cancer.

The more an antibiotic is used the more practice microbes get at beating it, yet McKenna points out more than 50% of antibiotics prescribed in hospitals are unnecessary, 45% of those prescribed by GP’s are for things antibiotics can’t help with and 80% of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to farm animals to promote growth.

Also, with the growing research into the importance of our microbiome, the trillions of bugs in our gut which are seen to influence everything from our immune system to our mental health, it pays to remember antibiotics are like a nuclear bomb for our gut.

In an era where it’s easy to take for granted the many benefits of modern surgery, be it for organ transplants, joint replacements or a simple stent, and when childbirth is no longer seen as a risk, this is a powerful reminder that we must all act responsibly. Carrying on as we are with the reckless overuse of antibiotics will see the whole world at risk of returning to a time when a paper cut could kill you.

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